There are many reasons why people seek help from therapy and counselling. They might need someone to hear their story; they may want to work on a specific problem or they might need to work through distress in a safe setting. Ultimately though most people come to therapy because they want ‘something’ to change and in the case of couples’ therapy, they also quite often want ‘someone’ to change.
Change as a goal is understandable but how achievable is it? Well, it can be very achievable depending on attitude, intention and readiness to make change however, it is important to understand change as a process and not an event. According to Norcross and Prochaska’s model change in fact consists of five stages:
1) PRE-CONTEMPLATION: Others may be aware of problems when you are not, or while you may have a wish to change, you may have no intention or motivation to do anything about it. If you are in therapy at this stage, you have usually come due to pressure from another. Change can occur at this stage under this pressure but usually it is short-lived as problems reoccur when the pressure is off. Lack of recognition prevents progress.
2) CONTEMPLATION: At this stage you may recognise a problem but you may not as yet have committed to take action. You may spend time evaluating options but with no firm decision to act, you can become stuck. ‘Baby steps’ may be the way forward.
3) PREPARATION: At this stage recognition, intention and behavioural action meet; you plan action immediately and small steps can begin to make a difference, which then lead to bigger steps or a more sustained commitment to action.
4) ACTION: You commit fully to action with time and energy to achieve positive results. Equally you become aware how difficult it really is to change and pitfalls may emerge.
5) MAINTENANCE: You are able to overcome the pitfalls by actively avoiding relapse and you can consolidate gains from change. New behaviours are bedded down for more six months and you recognise that you occasionally need a boost of support to keep up the good work.
You can enter therapy at any of the above stages but it is important to recognise that successful long-term change requires completion of all five stages. A good therapist knows this too and should be able to support you at each stage. Some stages take longer than others and can often people take considerable breaks in between stages.
Which stage are you at? And if you are coming to therapy as a couple in the hope of changing your partner, which stage are they at? How are you going to change if there is positive change in the relationship, and are you ready for that?